Visiting The Most Conservative Amish (One thing to keep in mind)

Last month I shared an update on the Swartzentruber Amish community at Ellenboro, NC, with photos of two stops at Amish businesses there (Gideon Hershberger‘s woodworking business and Enos Gingerich & wife Fannie’s furniture and homemade soaps businesses).

This community uses an Ellenboro mailing address, though they are near the town of Polkville as well (the buggy photo at top is Polkville).

I also put together two videos from that visit so far – one from Gideon’s woodworking place, and the second from the soaps shop.

Visiting the Swartzentruber Amish (one thing to keep in mind)

Swartzentruber Amish are essentially the plainest and slowest-to-change of all Amish. Yet that doesn’t mean they are reserved, or as closed to outsiders as some might assume. I’ve found Amish in this community as well as in other Swartzentruber settlements to be generally warm and down-to-earth, belying their rather austere appearance.

swartzentruber amish buggy
Wayne County, Ohio

Truth be told, I’ve had more interactions with Amish from this group in their southern settlements, though have also met some nice folks in Ohio for example (see here and here).

Swartzentruber Amish farm, Holmes County, Ohio

When visiting these plainer Amish communities, there’s one thing to keep in mind. I think that sometimes when people visit the Amish, the non-Amish visitor can be a bit uptight and worried about offending them by saying the wrong thing.

This makes for an uncomfortable visit and everyone ends up feeling awkward (this is how my first-ever visit to an Amish home in 2004 went 🙂 ). But it’s good to remember to just treat Amish people like people since that’s what they are. And they’re not as easy to offend as people might suppose.

Even these most traditional groups. They enjoy jokes, even corny humor, as I’ve discovered when sharing some of my own. That doesn’t mean don’t be respectful, but it also means not to treat them like museum pieces.

Funny enough, I’ve found I’ve had to tread a bit more lightly regarding some topics around people from, for instance, the New Order Amish churches. I think people would assume that to be the case with the more materially conservative Amish, but that hasn’t been my experience.

Gideon’s shop

Back to this latest visit – while at Gideon’s, along with the cutting boards and rocking chairs, I discovered a wooden item I’d never seen before, but which you could see might be popular among the Amish. The hint I’ll give is that it has to do with preserving food.

Gideon is just starting out in the business. He was very pleasant to visit with and spent some time talking with us after we finished recording. In the video Gideon shares some of his plans and hopes for his new venture.

Gideon’s father Herman runs a buggy shop on the same property, and there are some glimpses of that in this video as well. Check it out here:

Visiting the Most Conservative Amish

Next we have a look at the handmade soaps & lotions business, run by Fannie Gingerich. Husband Enos gave us a look in the simple shop, which is housed in a basement area in their previous home (they’ve since built a new home and the previous building will become the HQ for Enos’s outdoor furniture business).

In this video, Enos answers some questions about the business and my brother and I pick out some soaps. You might be surprised by some of the unexpected scents that they sell. Unfortunately Fannie does not show up in this video but Enos covers things pretty well.

Inside an Amish Soap Shop (NC Swartzentruber Community)

I still plan to do a video on Enos’ furniture as well. It looks like his business has become more established in the past several years, which was nice to see.

Finally, I was a bit disappointed to learn that the very first person I got to know a bit in this community, Emanuel Gingerich, had moved back to his home settlement of Ethridge in Tennessee.

Ethridge, Tennessee Amish settlement

Emanuel was the one with a custom woodworking shop, and is a minister in the church (covered in this 2019 post). I’m looking forward, however, to hopefully surprising him on a future visit to Tennessee. Emanuel also spent a good bit of our first meeting puffing on a Backwoods-style cigar, another common-enough custom of this group which might surprise some.

I hope you enjoy these looks at a small but growing traditional Amish settlement. And if you didn’t catch the original post, you’ll find that at the link in the top paragraph.

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    1. Walter Boomsma

      Leave your shy bones behind...

      Excellent point–during our visits to the Lancaster area, I find that, while enjoying the easy-going calm, I can get a little too sensitive to what I’m saying and doing when with the Amish. My comment title is “stolen” from an Amish host. Common courtesy and respect are of course important but by and large we try not to act like tourists and during this past visit we had some incredible visits and exchanges. Another expression we heard this year was, “Oh, we’re just like you except we wear funny clothes.” While not exactly true, it’s disarming and comforting statement. I think we can trust the Amish to draw a line when and where necessary.

      1. Al in Ky

        Erik–I like J.O.B.’s suggestion about doing a post on Amish jokes, humor, pranks, etc.

        A couple of days ago, I was at a produce stand on a Swartzentruber Amish family’s farm. They had much qood quality produce for sale, including okra. As I took some okra to the counter to pay for it, I mentioned, “I need to buy okra from you all this year, because a groundhog chewed up all of my plants.” The Amish man immediately said, “Why did that happen? Couldn’t they read the ‘No trespassing sign'”?

        1. I like that joke and like the idea. I’m not the best at jokes and humor though – at least not at recording them. My Amish friends, at least some of them, tease me about my Polish heritage sometimes – but they also point the same humor back upon themselves, so I can’t really complain! However if someone has a list out there, I’d be happy to share it as a guest post.

      2. I like the self-awareness and also seems like they are aware of how visitors might be self-conscious themselves. Seems like they’d be good at putting people at ease with that kind of understanding.

    2. Cambria County

      These Amish in Cambria County ran into some bad press regarding sewer runoff much like the Hutterite’s in Fayetteville County.

    3. J.O.B.

      Since you mentioned ‘jokes’ in this story, have you ever thought about writing a little piece on Amish jokes?

      If you have, I’ll try to search this site for the story.

      If not, have you considered doing a story on Amish jokes that you’ve heard over the years? Pranks they may play on one another?

      Also, what about Amish ‘slang?’

      Just another way to get a peek at the culture some Amish communities may have.

      1. J.O.B. see my reply to Al below – I haven’t done much on that besides maybe an odd post here or there. If someone would like to compile either a jokes or slang/interesting expressions post though, I’d be happy to share it.

    4. Boyce Rensberger

      Gideon's power equipment

      I saw a brief view of what looked like power woodworking equipment in Gideon’s shop. I wish you had asked him about that. What is his source of energy to run that equipment? Are the Swartzentruber allowed to use electricity from the grid if its for the business? I think that would have given us a better idea of how this sect lives or works.

      1. I asked Enos to explain that for us in his furniture shop. That will be in another video.

      2. Marcus Yoder

        Amish power

        My Amish cousins in Arthur, Illinois will buy a piece of equipment and remove the electric motor, and use either an air or hydraulic motor. They will have big engines to supply hydraulic and air.
        Marcus Yoder

    5. Aj

      There are new Amish population statistics for 2022.

    6. Niklas

      'Defection' Between Affiliations?

      I recall reading in ‘An Amish Paradox’ that the defection rate for the Swartzentruber in Holmes County was around 10% (with Kraybill’s ‘The Amish’ noting their high retention – with variance by settlement/congregation etc).

      Do you know if ‘defectors’ (especially if from streng Meidung groups) includes those who join “higher” or non-affiliated Amish subgroups?

      For example, Swartzentruber or Swiss Amish joining the New Order Amish?

      1. That’s a really good question. I’d have to check the fine print in some of the studies – there are some others in other publications – on how that is usually handled. On the one hand it would be hard to see a person say who marries out of one group and into another as a “defector”. In any case I don’t think it’s very common in comparison to those who all-out leave the Amish, so probably wouldn’t affect the overall % that much. My two cents

        1. Niklas

          Thanks for your insight Erik. Recall reading that the Holmes county [Mainstream] Old Order had greater defection [25.1%] due to more “choices” in other churches. Perhaps referencing Beachy or Evangelical groups then?

          Would be interesting to see a study on where Amish end up when they leave: what % become Beachy/Amish-Mennonite, Evangelical, secular etc.
          Most information seems to be biographies moving into the ‘English’ world.

    7. Interesting!

      Similar to the Hutterite community in Fayetteville County, these Amish people in Cambria County received negative publicity about sewage discharge.